Friday, December 21, 2007

A Wii White Christmas

Thanks to Elia (13) we co-bought a Wii system months ago, when a shipment of them came into Best Buy. Having already a dreaded xbox and the annoying repetition of a gamecube, I was sold on the idea of a controller that responds to moving some part of the body other than your thumb to take action. Turns out it was a good sale.

We have spent many hours playing virtual tennis and bad golf, but the Wii has been a welcome addition to the house. Now though, it has attained stellar proportion.

Guitar Hero III came out, and after meeting a guy in a secret location with a wad of cash, we are blissing out to screaming guitar solos, that I only dreamed of being able to play (and of course, still can't) but can PRETEND to. The Santana and Who tracks are comforting to play, as is Foghat's Slow Ride which I recall being able to play even in high school. The new (to me) tracks from Weezer, Priestess, and Eric Johnson are amazingly fun to play.

And when I tired of trying to beat Tom Morello's doppelganger, I can try to make the Wii controller into a virtual whiteboard tracker...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Rogers finds clever customer-hostile technique

Rogers has reasonable coverage in the Vancouver area, but I get a dropped call 90% of the time on the same spot in Burnaby - the 29nd avenue dip between renfrew and slocan. I always called the 611 service to complain and always giev me the assurance that they would not charge me for the call. Got a lot of free calls that way.

Rogers new approach to getting people to stop calling to complain is amazingly brazen, and clever in a most diabolical way. They tell you they can't provide service for you if you are calling from YOUR CELL PHONE! No, even though they did it for 10 years, now they want you to pull over to the use the Telus pay phone, of which there are, let me see...carry the zero, Zero left. Oh, but I can always just wait to get to the office at which time, do I really want to queue up on the wait list while I should be working? - no.

You have to admit, it is an absolutely brilliant strategy if you want to stop customers trying to get assistance, which is of course the underlying desire of poorly-managed businesses who never learn that they could reduce service costs and increase customer loyalty by actually delivering good products at a reasonable price - something the cell phone carriers have never learned.

Good thing work pays for that account - I would have cancelled it there and then. But then I have to wait till I can get to a land line...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Don't Save the Planet!

I am getting very tired of the "save the planet" mantra people trot out when trying to convince other people to drive smaller cars than themselves.

Let me tell you - you don't need to save the planet. Earth is doing fine thank you very much.

It's people that are at risk.

Regardless of the sources, climate change will not cause the earth to explode, or wobble on its axis (any more than it does now), or burn up and become a cinder falling into the sun.

It's much more likely that an increase in CO2 will make it hard for many people to breathe, or that sea levels rise and wipe out the billions of people who live along seashore, or allow the next ice age which would clear out most of the countries in the northern hemispehere.

So let's cut the chatter about saving the planet. I saw a bumper sticker once: it said "Save the Humans"

Now that's what it's about.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

iPod Touch/iPhone Remote

How to use ipod touch or iphone as a remote control, not quite air tunes but getting there

read more | digg story

Monday, October 01, 2007

I've Got the Touch...

My iPod Touch arrived just the other day (with that engraving, so no one can say it's not mine (and a hats-off to Peter Gabriel)). I don't really need another iPod, but I really want to use a couple things that I think will become widespread.

1. multitouch displays
2. hand-held browsers

Since we have pervasive 802.11 in the house I like being able to find a wikipedia entry at my fingertips. The pinch model for ui interaction is a bit awkward, but workable, and the gesture of "flick" as they call it, which I first saw on google earth is pretty sweet.

Two things missing: Bluetooth stereo headphones. Airtunes to beam to my music to my Airport-express-equipped speakers...

This Just In...

After googling "ipod touch airtunes" I came across this site for an app called "Signal". Signal runs on the your computer with iTunes (Mac or Win), uses the iTunes API, and shares a nicely-copied web browser interface that you can connect to from the iPod Touch/iPhone that makes it feel like your music is local.

While there are a couple user interface glitches, Matt Stevens was kind enough to reply to my feedback, and it looks like Signal should be on its way to being a killer app for iPod Touch, since many its users will have their master library on their mac anyway.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Canoeing on Bowron Lakes

Last week I took Elia (age 12) with me as we canoed the 60km of the Bowron Lakes in the Caribbo region of BC.

Eight days: no cell phone, no computer, just hours of paddling, setting up camp each night, and good sleeping, good water, and good exercise. Well, mosquitoes too..

For a high tech geek, this was an almost perfect holiday, to remind me of what it is to be in nature 24 hours a day, in natural beauty, and where awareness and muscle are mor important that cleverness.

Pictures here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bar Mitzvah Flashback

As I approach my 49th birthday, I gave a little thought sketch at Or Shalom this morning.

I imagined that I was once again 13 years old and looking out at the congregation at my Bar Mitzvah, seeing my parents and friends in the pews, and an older gentleman who looked strangely familiar, but a little weird. After the service, this guy approached my younger self and introduced himself to me as myself, myself at 49. The older me seemed pressed for time, but felt the need to explain all the amazing, sad, wondrous, and important events to come in this pudgy teenager's life, and watched for the reaction. After a few moments thought, the youngster replied, "Cool," and excused himself to go see his friends. "Just before you go, some advice," I told myself in the little cone of silence that seemed to be keeping us separate from the bustling friends and family. "In the 80's, when interest rates are like, 25%, it would be a better idea to save than to borrow."

The weekly portion (parasha) for my Bar Mitzvah "Behar" - on the mountain, starts talking about a period of 7 years, and 7 times 7 years. According to the Torah, farmers are supposed to let their fields lie fallow every 7 years, like a Sabbath for the land. After 7 cycles of these 7 years, the year after is called "Yuval" or in English "Jubilee". I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty smart to build sustainability into God-given rules so that people follow wise rules even when they are inconvenient.

I've always liked the number 7, and it has great significance in Judaism. Now that I am 7 times 7 years old, I'm looking forward to a great year. Forty-nine, is called a "perfect square" because it is formed by multiplying a number by itself. There are lots of significant perfect squares for me this year. Six times six is 36, which is the number of years between being 13 and turning 49. Five times five is 25, which is what interest rates were when I should have saved more. Four times four is 16, which is the age of our oldest son, Sol. Three times three is nine, which doubled is 18, known as "Chai" or "Life" by the sum of its letters, and is the number of years Tilly & I have been married. Two times two is four, which is the number of people in our immediate nuclear family, and One times One is One, which is what I always seem to be making out of two things, and what I think the world is about.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

iPod Infinity

(inspired by The Book of Sand by one of my favorite authors Jorges Luis Borges).

Since its introduction in 2000, subsequent versions of Apple's iPod have been getting physically smaller, while their capacity has steadily increased. Following these trends, it is just a matter of time before Apple introduces - iPod Infinity.

Not only does iPod Infinity have infinite storage space, but iPod Infinity comes pre-loaded with an infinite amount of stored songs, (saved in uncompressed aiff format since you have no limit on storage space). Just think what that means, iPod Infinity ships with every song ever recorded, and all the ones that never were! Hear the original performance of Bach's Brandenberg Concerto, performed with original instruments at a time that no recording equipment existed! Hear the basement tapes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and all the songs they never had a chance to compose. Listen to Janis Joplin singing live with Bono, and hear Jim Croce's cover version of Metallica's "Seek and Destroy."

Imagine it. With iPod Infinity, you never have to run out of storage space to put your movies, videos, and music. iPod Inifinity always has room for more. Ipod's new double-up feature moves all the tracks from track 1 to 2, from track 2 to track 4, track 3 to track 6, etc. and this creates room on all the odd-numbered tracks on the infinite disk, allowing for an infinite number of new downloads. Sorry, gift cards in the amount of infinite dollars are not available at this time.

Plus. if you buy now, you will receive every song that has not been written yet. You'll be able to hear Avril Lavigne crooning jazz standards from recordings she wll make in 30 years, and the next 100 years of Billboard hits.

One warning; because of the infinite capacity of the iPod Infinity, it is unlikely you will ever find the same song twice, creating the most awesome shuffle ever. Sadly, some users have reported frustration at hearing several versions of a song, varying by only one note. The most serious drawback has been that the song titles for all material consists of a random string of characters, so that Bruckner's 9th Symphony perfomed in Munich in 1932 has the unfortunate name of $F63896A6383745E5638683462A3. Hopefully 3rd parties will upload meaningful song labels as they are discovered.

Enjoy your iPod Infinity!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I'm amazed at how often I see the word "Traditionally..." used to describe a way things used to be done. It's not inappropriate, it's just that it USED to mean, like 50 or 100 years ago, but now the time-scope for using the the term seems to be about 3 years, and shrinking...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

You are coming to a sad realization, Cancel or Allow?

The I'm-a-Mac-I'm-a-PC commercials were getting a bit tired for me, and was thinking it was time for Apple to just move on, until I saw this week's new ad about Vista ( see the one marked Security). For the first time in a while I had to laugh out loud. The writing is bitingly poingnant, and the performance by the square-jawed security dude is perfect, right down to the ear-tube and the constant horizon-scanning behind dark glasses.

On our metabadge project, we ran into this kind of crazy windows pseudo-security. Microsoft seems to confuse inconvenience with security (or maybe that's true for the U.S. in general when in comes to homeland security), by making users answer questions they are not qualified to answer, and the very software that should help them make the decision, withholds the very essence of what they need to know. In our case, the metabadge control software queries exchange for your appointments so it can turn them into speech and download them onto your wireless metabadge. When this happens, in spite of you installing the application yourself, and in spite of it following the micorosoft api, and in spite of it authorized under your username and password, Windows puts up a dialog, saying that "an application" is attempting to access outlook, Cancel or Allow? The dialog does not even name the application that is trying to make that access, even though clearly the application you just installed is probably allowed while "crazyviralspamgenerator" might not be on your list. Even if you say "Allow" , it gives you a time limit of NO MORE THAN 10 minutes so you can delightedly make that decision every 10 minutes of your work day.

This pseudo-security is so annoying and so widespread that some person we don't even know created an application that does nothing more than wait for that dialog to appear, then presses the "OK" button for you.

Have you come to the same realization? Allow.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Rediscovering Stephenson

One of the things I love about winter break is being able to catch up on my reading. I breezed through my new copy of iWoz with a bit more insite to the Wozster than I had before. FInding a place for it on my bokshelf reminded me to dust off my copy of Neal Stephenson's Baroque cycle. The fact that I love Stephenson's books should be no surprise to those that know me. They are rich in nerdy detail, convoluted in plot and double-clickable in character; that is the characters have enough depth to be interesting and sometimes unpredictable.

I often pick up Cryptonomicon and reread favorite passages: Randy's encounter with the Dentist, and his breakthrough moment in the jail visiting room with Amy. Avi's confrontation with Goto Dengo as to the source of WWII gold in the Japanese-built crypt in the Phillipines; Lawrence's spontaneous performance of Bach on a questionably-tempered pipe organ.

Picking up Quicksilver finds me in a very foreign literary land. Not having a degree in English, names like Pynchon mean little to me, so trying to plough through this type of literature dulls the blade of my skimming reader pretty quickly. Like my universtiry textbooks, there are pages that I finish reading and then stop, realizing I have no clue as to what they said. Then I have to trudge back to the place I took my first mis-step, align both visual and mental acuity, and attack the text with persistent vision leading to - usually - comprehension.

I look forward to finding the story of wootz, the makings of hardened steel. Stephenson makes this sound like a discovery that changed the face of battle in the entire world. Maybe he's right.